from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
Despite a warning from the federal government about do-it-yourself gene therapy, two companies say they'll continue offering DNA-altering materials to the public.
The companies, The Odin and Ascendance Biomedical, both recently posted videos online of people self-administering DNA molecules their labs had produced.
Following wide distribution of the videos, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week issued a harshly worded statement cautioning consumers against DIY gene-therapy kits and calling their sale illegal. "The sale of these products is against the law. FDA is concerned about the safety risks involved," the agency said.
Does the Executive Branch want the market to decide, or not?
The FDA is proposing a new, risk-based enforcement approach to homeopathic drug products (alternative medicine):
To protect consumers who choose to use homeopathic products, this proposed new approach would update the FDA's existing policy to better address situations where homeopathic treatments are being marketed for serious diseases and/or conditions but where the products have not been shown to offer clinical benefits. It also covers situations where products labeled as homeopathic contain potentially harmful ingredients or do not meet current good manufacturing practices.
Under the law, homeopathic drug products are subject to the same requirements related to approval, adulteration and misbranding as any other drug product. However, prescription and nonprescription drug products labeled as homeopathic have been manufactured and distributed without FDA approval under the agency's enforcement policies since 1988.
"In recent years, we've seen a large uptick in products labeled as homeopathic that are being marketed for a wide array of diseases and conditions, from the common cold to cancer. In many cases, people may be placing their trust and money in therapies that may bring little to no benefit in combating serious ailments, or worse – that may cause significant and even irreparable harm because the products are poorly manufactured, or contain active ingredients that aren't adequately tested or disclosed to patients," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. "Our approach to regulating homeopathic drugs must evolve to reflect the current complexity of the market, by taking a more risk-based approach to enforcement. We respect that some individuals want to use alternative treatments, but the FDA has a responsibility to protect the public from products that may not deliver any benefit and have the potential to cause harm."
FDA draft guidance (8 pages).
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Biohackers Disregard FDA Warning on DIY Gene Therapy
After decades of hope and high promise, this was the year scientists really showed they could doctor DNA to successfully treat diseases. Gene therapies to treat cancer and even pull off the biblical-sounding feat of helping the blind to see were approved by U.S. regulators, establishing gene manipulation as a new mode of medicine.
Almost 20 years ago, a teen's death in a gene experiment put a chill on what had been a field full of outsized expectations. Now, a series of jaw-dropping successes have renewed hopes that some one-time fixes of DNA, the chemical code that governs life, might turn out to be cures. "I am totally willing to use the 'C' word," said the National Institutes of Health's director, Dr. Francis Collins.
[...] The advent of gene editing — a more precise and long-lasting way to do gene therapy — may expand the number and types of diseases that can be treated. In November, California scientists tried editing a gene inside someone's body for the first time using a tool called zinc finger nucleases for a man with a metabolic disease. It's like a cut-and-paste operation to place a new gene in a specific spot. Tests of another editing tool called CRISPR to genetically alter human cells in the lab may start next year. "There are a few times in our lives when science astonishes us. This is one of those times," Dr. Matthew Porteus, a Stanford University gene editing expert, told a Senate panel discussing this technology last month.
Previously: Gene Therapy Cure for Sickle-Cell Disease
Gene Therapy to Kill Cancer Moves a Step Closer to Market
U.S. Human Embryo Editing Study Published
FDA Approves a Gene Therapy for the First Time
Gene Editing Without CRISPR -- Private Equity Raises $127 Million
FDA Committee Endorses Gene Therapy for a Form of Childhood Blindness
FDA Approves Gene Therapy for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
Gene Therapy and Skin Grafting for Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa
Gene Therapy for Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1
Biohackers Disregard FDA Warning on DIY Gene Therapy
CRISPR Used to Epigenetically Treat Diseases in Mice
Gene Therapy Showing Promise for Hemophilia B
Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy Approved by the FDA
CRISPR Treatment for Some Inherited Forms of Lou Gehrig's Disease Tested in Mice
"Biohackers" are growing bolder with their self-experimentation:
Aaron Traywick, 28, who leads biotech firm Ascendance Biomedical, used an experimental herpes treatment that did not go through the typical route of clinical trials to test its safety. Instead of being developed by research scientists in laboratories, it was created by a biohacker named Andreas Stuermer, who "holds a masters degree and is a bioentrepreneur and science lover," according to a conference bio. This is typical of the Ascendance approach. The company believes that FDA regulations for developing treatments are too slow and that having biohackers do the research and experiment on themselves can speed up the process to everyone's benefit. In the past, the company's plans have included trying to reverse menopause, a method that is now actually in clinical trials.
"We prefer to do everything before a live audience so you can hold us accountable in the days to come as we collect the data to prove whether or not this works," Traywick said before last night's spectacle. And, he added, "if we succeed with herpes in even the most minor ways, we can move forward immediately with cancer."
Despite specifying that he wanted "technical questions," someone in the audience asked whether Ascendance had received ethical permission for the experiment. Traywick said he didn't. Technically, everything has been officially labeled "not for human consumption," he said.
Also at The Scientist.
Zayner is no stranger to stunts in biohacking—loosely defined as experiments, often on the self, that take place outside of traditional lab spaces. You might say he invented their latest incarnation: He's sterilized his body to "transplant" his entire microbiome in front of a reporter. He's squabbled with the FDA about selling a kit to make glow-in-the-dark beer. He's extensively documented attempts to genetically engineer the color of his skin. And most notoriously, he injected his arm with DNA encoding for CRISPR that could theoretically enhance his muscles—in between taking swigs of Scotch at a live-streamed event during an October conference. (Experts say—and even Zayner himself in the live-stream conceded—it's unlikely to work.)
So when Zayner saw Ascendance Biomedical's CEO injecting himself on a live-stream earlier this month, you might say there was an uneasy flicker of recognition.